Recently, my wife gave me a bright red sweat shirt with Newburyport, Massachusetts, imprinted on it to wear. I remember buying in there because the weather was raining and rather cold. Newburyport is a small coastal city in Essex County, Massachusetts, 38 miles northeast of Boston and is accustomed for that kind of weather.
The shirt brought back some interesting history about the evangelist who was preaching in New England when the founder of the northern region of my denomination was converted.
Following the ministry of the Methodist evangelist and preacher George Whitefield in the region, the First Presbyterian Church "Old South" of Newburyport began meeting in the 1750s, He died in Newburyport in 1770 and his remains were buried under the pulpit of this church at his request where his tomb remains to this day.
I stood in the pulpit and gazed over the auditorium, with a large seating area on the floor, and about as much in the balconey, that surrounded the large assembly area.
My memory recalled the hundreds Whitefield had preached to there in times past.
After departing the evalvated platform, the church organist asked if we would like to see Whitefield’s grave underneath where I had been standing.
We entered a doorway behind the pulpit area and went down a number of stairs to a lighted area where Whitefield and two other former pastors had been buried. It was a solemn occasion for me.
In the New World Whitefield preached from Georgia to New England, always raising money for the orphanage he had established in Savannah.
New York, Boston, Philadelphia, the Carolinas, and Harvard University: all were beneficiaries of his ministry as he was anything but "the generality of preachers who talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ."
On another occasion, I visited Harvard and tried to find the famous picture of Whitefield who was reported of his being cross-eyed. Sure enough he was and a picture on my Blog page contains a photo of it.
In a time when crossing the Atlantic Ocean was a long and hazardous adventure, he visited America seven times, making 13 trans-Atlantic crossings in total. It is estimated that throughout his life, he preached more than 18,000 formal sermons. In addition to his work in America and England, he made 15 journeys to Scotland, two to Ireland, and one each to Bermuda, Gibraltar, and The Netherlands.
When he returned to America in November 1739 he preached nearly every day for months to large crowds of sometimes several thousand people as he travelled throughout the colonies, especially New England.
He is considered to be one of the fathers of Evangelicalism. He was the best-known preacher in England and America in the 18th century, and because he travelled through all of the American colonies and drew great crowds and media coverage, he was one of the most widely recognized public figures in America before George Washington.
Another interesting fact about the Old South church is that the bell in the clock tower was cast by Paul Revere.
Among the notable people to attend church were "Lord" Timothy Dexter, Capt. Abraham Wheelwright, Isaac Wheelwright, Caleb Cushing, Adolphus Greely, and Samuel Tufts.
Whitefield parted company with John Wesley over the doctrine of predestination. Three churches were established in England in his name. Whitefield acted as chaplain to Selina, Countess of Huntingdon and some of his followers joined the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, whose chapels were paid for at her sole expense and where a form of Calvinistic Methodism similar to Whitefield's could be spread. Many of these chapels were built in the English counties and Wales, and one was erected in London.
Like his contemporary and acquaintance, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield preached with a staunch conviction: "Come poor, lost, undone sinner, come just as you are to Christ.”